As the industry struggles in a down market, we must do an even better job with the small details in each operation. Many daily inputs can't be altered. But one input we can alter is feeding.

The swine nutrition industry has made great strides in feeding for a leaner carcass. The industry has also done its job evaluating feedstuffs for the relative value of diets.

Knowing what a pig needs for maximum performance, however, takes more work. As we feed closer to the pig's needs, we spend less money on nutrition/lb. of lean pork, put less into waste material, and make the pig more efficient.

To improve pig efficiency, you must tackle the two most difficult things there are to measure: feed intake and the pig's actual nutrient needs. Figuring feed intake (lb/head/day) is a simple calculation - take the amount of feed consumed in a given day divided by the number of pigs.

But getting the data for the calculation is difficult with feed delivery systems that do not measure daily usage. We usually don't know when groups of pigs run out of feed. And we are unable to accurately estimate feed left in bulk bins or feeders. Producers who want the data use weigh bars on hoppers or bulk bins to measure feed delivered. Other systems are being developed to weigh feed on the fly to help evaluate feed consumption.

The difference between feed consumption and feed disappearance needs clarification. Feed disappearance is feed consumption plus feed wastage. In most cases, we talk in terms of feed consumption when we mean feed disappearance.

In fact, I still see farms that appear to be bedding with feed. Although feed costs are fairly cheap now, they are still not that cheap. I like to see at least 50% of the feeder tray visible at any given time.

Figuring Nutrient Needs Pigs have different nutrient needs based on many factors including sex, season, environment (pen density, room temperature, facility design) and genetics. Figuring the nutrient needs of the pig at farm level is difficult. A genetic supplier may publish "nutrient requirements" but as the factors listed above change, so do the requirements.

Matching requirements with diets is an ongoing challenge. Modeling programs are available commercially that use on-farm data to get closer to actual performance than standardized industry growth curves. Some feed suppliers offer these programs. The National Research Council (NRC) has one program available that may be adapted to your unit.

The best program to date is called serial ultrasound testing. It can be used to measure a group of pigs throughout the finishing period to fix growth based on current building conditions. This data is then plotted to establish that farm's actual performance based on genetics and building type. However, information from this technique is not transferable between farms and is accurate only for that specific situation.

Case Study No. 1 In a 120-sow, farrow-to-finish operation, the sows were housed in groups. Batch farrowing occurred every 28 days. Groups were farrowed within a 7-day period to run farrowing, nursery and finishing all-in, all-out. The finishing pigs, housed outside, were fed as a mixed-sex group. Genetics were scheduled to be changed.

When we measured consumption over time, we found maximum intakes occurred from 150-220 lb. With good feeder adjustment at peak consumption, feed disappearance was 8.3 lb./pig/day. This was much greater than expected.

Once we knew intakes, we went back and adjusted protein and lysine levels down to match consumption. No limiting performance changes were noted on subsequent finisher closeouts. Although we did not impact lean on this farm, we were able to cut feed costs.

Case Study No. 2 In a weaned-pig-to-finish operation, 1,200 pigs weighing 10-11 lb. were received every eight weeks. Newly weaned pigs were housed in a power-ventilated nursery and later moved to a double-curtain-sided finisher. The unit had used closeout data to establish nutrient needs of the finishing animals. Ultrasound tests were conducted on 7% of one room of finishers.

>From the data set that was developed, the rations were changed to reflect >the growth rate of the pigs at various stages. In general, the old rations >underestimated theability of the pig to grow between 50-120 lb., and >overestimated the growth over 200 lb. Energy-to-lysine ratios published by >Kansas State were used to formulate rations.

The increased diet cost of the early rations was offset by the decreased diet costs in the latter rations where tonnage is greater. The end result was improved average daily gain, improved feed efficiency and decreased feed cost/lb. of lean gain. Since these changes, the diets have again been altered to account for the decreasing cost of energy in the corn-to-added fat ratio.

Although the data is difficult to obtain, it is valuable in both performance and cost of gain. If you have not reviewed your feed program recently, you may want to contact your nutritionist or veterinary consultant to take advantage of new information and changing feed costs.